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Prester John

4. My Journey To The Winter-Veld
A reply came from Colles, addressed not to me but to Japp. It seemed that the
old fellow had once suggested the establishment of a branch store at a place out
in the plains called Umvelos', and the firm was now prepared to take up the
scheme. Japp was in high good humour, and showed me the letter. Not a word
was said of what I had written about, only the bare details about starting the
branch. I was to get a couple of masons, load up two wagons with bricks and
timber, and go down to Umvelos' and see the store built. The stocking of it and
the appointment of a storekeeper would be matter for further correspondence.
Japp was delighted, for, besides getting rid of me for several weeks, it showed
that his advice was respected by his superiors. He went about bragging that the
firm could not get on without him, and was inclined to be more insolent to me
than usual in his new self-esteem. He also got royally drunk over the head of it.
I confess I was hurt by the manager's silence on what seemed to me more vital
matters. But I soon reflected that if he wrote at all he would write direct to me,
and I eagerly watched for the post-runner. No letter came, however, and I was
soon too busy with preparations to look for one. I got the bricks and timber from
Pietersdorp, and hired two Dutch masons to run the job. The place was not very
far from Sikitola's kraal, so there would be no difficulty about native helpers.
Having my eyes open for trade, I resolved to kill two birds with one stone. It was
the fashion among the old- fashioned farmers on the high-veld to drive the cattle
down into the bush-veld - which they call the winter-veld - for winter pasture.
There is no fear of red-water about that season, and the grass of the plains is
rich and thick compared with the uplands. I discovered that some big droves
were passing on a certain day, and that the owners and their families were
travelling with them in wagons. Accordingly I had a light naachtmaal fitted up as a
sort of travelling store, and with my two wagons full of building material joined the
caravan. I hoped to do good trade in selling little luxuries to the farmers on the
road and at Umvelos'.
It was a clear cold morning when we started down the Berg. At first my hands
were full with the job of getting my heavy wagons down the awesome precipice
which did duty as a highway. We locked the wheels with chains, and tied great
logs of wood behind to act as brakes. Happily my drivers knew their business,
but one of the Boer wagons got a wheel over the edge, and it was all that ten
men could do to get it back again.
After that the road was easier, winding down the side of a slowly opening glen. I
rode beside the wagons, and so heavenly was the weather that I was content
with my own thoughts. The sky was clear blue, the air warm, yet with a wintry
tonic in it, and a thousand aromatic scents came out of the thickets. The pied
birds called 'Kaffir queens' fluttered across the path. Below, the Klein Labongo
churned and foamed in a hundred cascades. Its waters were no more the clear
grey of the 'Blue Wildebeeste's Spring,' but growing muddy with its approach to
the richer soil of the plains.